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By Eva Barrows                                             Follow East Palo Alto Today on
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November 2, 2020                            EPA Today Facebook page Follow epatoday on Twitter EPA Today Blog Icon


Graphic courtesy of https://www.smchealth.org/ 


In responding to some of the challenges COVID-19 is presenting to everyone, the State of California enacted a COVID-19 reopening plan. The plan is called California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy and it adds a new health “equity metric,” which requires individual counties to focus on their under-resourced communities. 

At the October 6 East Palo Alto City Council meeting, City Manager, Jaime Fontes introduced the plan’s new reopening requirement. “The equity metric mandates overall infection rates in East Palo Alto should not significantly lag behind the county average,” he said. 

On Tuesday, October 27, San Mateo County, along with Contra Costa and Marin Counties, moved from the red tier, the second most restrictive tier of the reopening framework, which allowed for some non-essential business to open with modifications, to the orange tier. 

The county’s move into the minimal risk categories, shows that it is satisfying three criteria: the ability to track the number of new cases per day; the reduction in the county’s overall testing positivity rate and the requirements of the health equity metric—the positivity rate in disadvantaged neighborhoods. 

In talking about the health equity metric, Fontes stated, “The good news for East Palo Alto is it puts pressure on the county to provide us with support for testing, funding, and contact tracing.” 

The health equity metric ensures counties bring down virus infection rates within all of its cities and neighborhoods before progressing into a new tier. The metric uses census data to determine population areas that may need additional investment and resources. 

At a press briefing early October, San Mateo County Manager Mike Callagy identified the areas the metric focuses on as Daly City, South San Francisco, Redwood City, San Mateo, East Palo Alto, and coastal communities. 

These are the county ‘s most vulnerable communities and they are still experiencing almost double the rate of infection as the rest of the county. During the week of October 13, the countywide positivity rate was 2.5%. However, the health equity metric was at 4.8%. Similarly, for every ten thousand East Palo Alto residents, 450 people tested positive the week of October 16, resulting in a 4.5% positivity rate for the city. 

Callagy said, “So the crux of the new metric is getting out and expanding communications in a culturally competent way with our partners and local organizations to amplify the message that we’ve had about wearing a mask, social distancing, hand washing and getting tested.” 

The county is increasing testing availability to make it easier for front line and essential workers to access testing. 

County residents can make an appointment to visit the San Mateo County Event Center testing location. Or, residents can visit mobile testing units that serve vulnerable neighborhoods, including in East Palo Alto. The county is also offering pop-up testing to hard-hit communities like skilled nursing facilities, homeless shelters and south coast farmworkers. 

San Mateo County met both its overall positivity rate and health equity metric the week of October 13. In moving into the orange tier, the county has brought its adjusted COVID-19 case rate down from 4.7 to under 3.9. All criteria will need to be met for two consecutive weeks before moving into the yellow tier, the last tier, where, “Most business operations are open with modifications.”


Eva Barrows contributes articles of special interest to East Palo Alto Today..